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Netanyahu recommended as PM by 52 MKs; Lapid 45; Bennett 7

Netanyahu secures most nominations for PM; Rivlin to tap candidate Tuesday

Premier still lacks clear to path to ruling majority; right-wing New Hope, predominantly Arab Joint List and Ra’am don’t back anyone

President Reuven Rivlin (L) meets with representatives from the New Hope party for consultations about who should form a new government, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. (Mark Neyman.GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin (L) meets with representatives from the New Hope party for consultations about who should form a new government, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. (Mark Neyman.GPO)

The New Hope, Joint List and Ra’am parties on Monday evening refrained from endorsing any candidate for prime minister, ensuring that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu gained the most recommendations to form a government.

At the end of a day of consultations by party representatives with President Reuven Rivlin, Netanyahu had been endorsed by 52 MKs (Likud 30; Shas 9; United Torah Judaism 7; Religious Zionism 6).

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was recommended as prime minister by 45 MKs (Yesh Atid 17, Blue and White 8, Yisrael Beytenu 7, Labor 7, Meretz 6), and Naftali Bennett by the 7 members of his own Yamina party. The three parties who made no recommendation account for the final 16 Knesset seats (New Hope 6, Joint List 6 and Ra’am 4).

That meant Netanyahu was potentially well-placed to be tasked by Rivlin with attempting to form a new coalition; Rivlin’s office said he will issue his decision on Tuesday.

Netanyahu still lacked a clear path to assembling a majority coalition in the 120-member Knesset, however,. His rivals, too, did not appear to have any straightforward options for clinching a government.

Earlier in the day’s consultations, Rivlin lamented that he could not see a way for anyone to form a coalition.

The right-wing New Hope, led by former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, campaigned on replacing Netanyahu. But the party also ruled out joining a government headed by Yesh Atid chief Lapid, limiting its options for whom to recommend.

Meeting Rivlin, who consulted separately Monday with representatives of all 13 parties that won seats in the March 23 elections, New Hope representatives declined to endorse anyone.

Explaining the move, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton said the party backs a rotational premiership between Lapid and Yamina leader Bennett, but their inability to reach an agreement on the matter prompted her party to abstain.

“Any recommendation for one of them won’t move us closer to a reality in which it will be possible to form a government,” she said.

Left to right: Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (Miriam Alster/Flash90); Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett; and New Hope party head Gideon Sa’ar (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton noted Rivlin’s past proposal for Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to form a unity government in which they rotate the premiership and their parties have equal responsibilities. She urged Rivlin to invite both Lapid and Bennett to work out such an agreement, after which New Hope would back one of them.

But Rivlin declined the proposal, saying such a move would be “political intervention.” He pointed out that neither Yesh Atid nor Yamina had made such a request.

Following New Hope, representatives of the Joint List party met with Rivlin and did not recommend anyone.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh reiterated the party’s opposition to Netanyahu, not only because of his corruption trial, but primarily because of Israel’s control over the Palestinians, the prime minister’s economic policies, and his alleged attempts to undermine the country’s democracy.

Odeh said he respects Lapid, noting the Yesh Atid leader’s statement during the election campaign that the Joint List could join a coalition. But he said Lapid’s emerging partnerships with right-wing parties, namely Yamina, meant the Joint List could not endorse Yesh Atid.

He said his party was still willing to endorse Lapid, but only if he does not partner with right-wing parties. Lapid has no chance of forming a government without the right-wing Yamina, New Hope, and Yisrael Beytenu.

MK Ahmad Tibi said Lapid was a “worthy candidate” and that the Joint List hoped to be the “decisive vote” on which candidate would get first shot at forming a coalition.

“If every one of our votes had been decisive, we would have voted [for a candidate],” Tibi said.

President Reuven Rivlin (C) greets Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh (L) and Ahmad Tibi during consultations on who should form a new government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Islamist Ra’am party sat down with Rivlin after the Joint List and also declined to endorse anyone.

Before New Hope met with Rivlin, the left-wing Meretz party endorsed Lapid.

Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz expressed confidence Lapid could form a government of right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties, but ruled out any partnerships with Likud or the far-right Religious Zionism.

As he kicked off the meetings in the morning, Rivlin lamented that “at the moment, I can’t see a way to form a coalition.”

President Reuven Rivlin meets with senior Likud lawmakers to hear their recommendation for who should be tasked with forming a government during consultations at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

He also said if his first choice to form a government fails, he may kick the mandate back to the Knesset to make a choice, rather than giving a second person a chance to do so first.

In stark comments, the president added that “after four election campaigns, democracy has exhausted itself.”

He also hinted at the possibility that Netanyahu’s corruption trial, taking place at the same time across town, could play a role in his decision on whom he would hand the mandate to.

The president met parties according to their factions’ size in the incoming Knesset, with the largest party — Likud — first and the smallest — Ra’am — last.

Following the discussions, Rivlin’s office said he would announce Tuesday which lawmaker he is tasking with forming the next government, based on whom he assesses has the best chance of doing so.

The meetings were being held at Rivlin’s official residence in Jerusalem and were streamed live on the president’s social media channels.

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